Three Cheers for the Little Guys!
One of the great joys of the garden is watching all of the small life that inhabits that world and helps the plants thrive. The wide array of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and flies busily pollinating. The ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantises helping keep pests at bay. The earthworms, beetles, and other invertebrates turning vegetable matter into healthy soil. Here at Dandelion Ridge Farm, we do what we can to support all of this vibrant life, including avoiding toxic chemicals, using integrated pest management techniques, planting flowers that support pollinators, and allowing for areas of wild space as wildlife habitat. We have been astounded by the number and diversity of bees and butterflies we’re seeing this summer, including a number of monarch butterflies using the milkweed we have planted as a host for their offspring. The sunflowers that line the garden are teeming with more species of pollinators than we can count! We are in awe of the array of small creatures who keep us all fed through their tireless work.
We are particularly grateful for the hum of insect activity because native bees and other pollinators essential to food production are facing enormous threats from pesticide use, climate change, habitat loss, and even competition from non-native honeybees (here’s a great short film on the topic). In fact, insect populations worldwide are rapidly declining—40% in the last 10 years—and up to 40% of the world’s insect species are at risk of extinction, according to a 2019 study. While insects are often framed as nuisances to human society (and it’s true, there are definitely some species I don’t appreciate so much…), it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of insects in ecosystems across the globe, and the worldwide ripple effect of these population losses.
But there are concrete ways we can each support beneficial native insects and other invertebrates. One of our favorite resources is the Xerces Society, “an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.” Their website contains a vast array of publications, videos, and other materials about these vital species and how to protect them and conserve the ecosystems they are a part of. They are hosting an ongoing webinar series on topics ranging from beneficial predatory insects to the affects of pesticides on pollinators to conservation guides specific to different species and regions of the country. Past webinars are also available online if you missed one. The Xerces Society has an enormous wealth of information, with many access points, including education, community science, habitat support, and advocacy. We urge you to support their work and get involved!
If you don’t have a garden to watch the mesmerizing dances of butterflies, bees, and others at home, we’ll share our pollinator plot with you. We like to watch this video on a loop as a bedtime meditation—we hope you enjoy it, too!
Now I’ll leave you with a celebration of the humble bumblebee by poet and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Burly dozing humblebee!
Where thou art is clime for me.
Let them sail for Porto Rique,
Far-off heats through seas to seek,
I will follow thee alone,
Thou animated torrid zone!
Zig-zag steerer, desert-cheerer,
Let me chase thy waving lines,
Keep me nearer, me thy hearer,
Singing over shrubs and vines.
Insect lover of the sun,
Joy of thy dominion!
Sailor of the atmosphere,
Swimmer through the waves of air,
Voyager of light and noon,
Epicurean of June,
Wait I prithee, till I come
Within ear-shot of thy hum,--
All without is martyrdom.
When the south wind, in May days,
With a net of shining haze,
Silvers the horizon wall,
And, with softness touching all,
Tints the human countenance
With a color of romance,
And, infusing subtle heats,
Turns the sod to violets,
Thou in sunny solitudes,
Rover of the underwoods,
The green silence dost displace,
With thy mellow breezy bass.
Hot midsummer’s petted crone,
Sweet to me thy drowsy tune,
Telling of countless sunny hours,
Long days, and solid banks of flowers,
Of gulfs of sweetness without bound
In Indian wildernesses found,
Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure,
Firmest cheer and bird-like pleasure.
Aught unsavory or unclean,
Hath my insect never seen,
But violets and bilberry bells,
Maple sap and daffodels,
Grass with green flag half-mast high,
Succory to match the sky,
Columbine with horn of honey,
Scented fern, and agrimony,
Clover, catch fly, adders-tongue,
And brier-roses dwelt among;
All beside was unknown waste,
All was picture as he passed.
Wiser far than human seer,
Seeing only what is fair,
Sipping only what is sweet,
Thou dost mock at fate and care,
Leave the chaff and take the wheat,
When the fierce north-western blast
Cools sea and land so far and fast,
Thou already slumberest deep,--
Woe and want thou canst out-sleep,--
Want and woe which torture us,
Thy sleep makes ridiculous.
Demolition Week and Mint Madness
It’s demolition week here at Dandelion Ridge Farm!
We’ve taken down our tomatillo, tomato, pepper, basil, parsley, and edible flower plants in the high tunnel to prepare for tilling and fall planting. It’s bittersweet to raze the veritable jungle that has been growing and producing abundantly. But the plants are now winding down and it’s time to move on to the tunnel’s next phase: extending our growing season into the fall and winter. It looks so empty in there now! Here is a “before, during, and after” montage of our work!
Now that we don’t have all the tomatoes, tomatillos, and green beans to harvest, this seems like a good time to talk about herbs! Folks often ask us what to do with the different types of mint we grow. We grow a classic spearmint, good in savory dishes like salad dressings or this delicious fresh pea soup. It is also tasty with berries and other sweets. We also grow Kentucky Colonel Mint, a versatile type of spearmint with large leaves, classically used in mint juleps and mojitos. It can be used interchangeably with standard spearmint.
Chocolate mint is a type of peppermint with an amazing soft chocolaty aroma and flavor. We use it to make a wonderful infused water: just lightly crush a handful of the herbs to release the oils, then place in a pitcher of water in the fridge. We refill our pitcher with water multiple times over several days before we have to replace the mint. It’s the perfect way to quench your thirst on a hot day! Chocolate mint is exceptional in desserts, as you might imagine! Stay tuned for some recipes on that front!
Mountain Mint is actually not a member of the mint family, but is a close relative that has minty flavor, but also some spicy undertones that some people compare to oregano. I find it to be best in savory dishes like tabbouleh. Or use it fresh or dried to make a tea.
Butterflies love mint as much as we do! (How many can you find?)